Conflict is unavoidable in relationships. Conflict isn’t necessarily sinful or destructive, but it can be depending on what we do with it. Jesus outlines a clear, specific, and workable process in Matthew 18. And, we simply can’t improve on what Jesus says. I’ve summarized into a six-step process the essence of what I believe Matthew 18 teaches us.
Before I suggest these steps, here’s the actual passage of Scripture:
If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that “every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.” If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector. I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by My Father in heaven. (Matthew 18:15-19)
- Determine if you really need to approach the person about the issue.
In verse 15 Jesus says, “If your brother sins against you …” In other words, we simply should drop some issues. If we can pray through them and commit to not using them against the other person, we can simply drop it.
But if you can’t, what might warrant taking the next step?
- Go if the issue is seriously dishonoring Christ.
- Go if the issue is damaging your relationship with the other person.
- Go if the issue is hurting others.
- If you do, go with the right heart and attitude.
In verse 15 the Scripture says, “If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.” The win here is that the relationship stays intact, not necessarily that you reach a resolution, even though you hope you do find one. Ultimately the goal is not to win an argument or point out the error of the other person’s ways, but to reconcile. It takes a right heart to help make this happen.
- Prepare for your meeting with the person before you go. Do your homework.
Assuming that you’ve arranged a meeting with the person, don’t go in blind. Give some thought to what you want to say. Proverbs 14:8 tells us that the wisdom of the prudent is to give thought to their ways.
I’ve found that the acronym, DESC, provides easily recallable mental hooks to guide such a conversation.
- Describe the behavior that caused the conflict.
- Explain the emotions you feel/felt when it happens.
- State the desired changed behavior (the solution).
- Consequences – state the positive consequences the new behavior will bring.
- Go in private and in person.
We often miss this step yet Jesus is very clear on this when He states, “just between the two of you.” By going to the other person first it avoids prematurely pulling somebody else into the issue and stops potential gossip. Plus, a face-to-face meeting allows us to observe body language which experts say accounts for much more of a message than words alone.
However, sometimes it may be wise to seek counsel from an objective party so he or she can give us objective advice.
- When you meet, use grace-filled words.
If in our conversation with this person we put them on the defensive, the meeting is over. Grace-filled conversation, however, can create safety and openness to resolving the issue. Paul speaks to this with great wisdom.
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. (Ephesians 4:29)
- If you reach a dead-end and feel the issue warrants it, enlist others to help.
Sometimes the issue is so serious that even after repeated 1-1 attempts to reconcile we must take the next step. In verse 16 Jesus says if we reach a stalemate, we must include others in the process. Often the leadership in the church should be included at this point. And then if the other party simply refuses to budge, the church must take more severe action (v. 17). Seldom do issues warrant such a drastic step. Yet, God sanctions such action for the sake of the unity in the church (vv. 19-20).
What else would you add that has helped you resolve conflict?